Why New York's Baby Formula Regulation Is Infuriating

Lay on the mom guilt.
Newborns are cute, no?
Newborns are cute, no?

There is a new regulation in New York that will forbid the state’s 126 birthing hospitals from giving out formula goodie bags, which usually include marketing materials and samples, to new parents starting January 2017.

The state has a much lower (44%) rate of breastfeeding in the first few days after birth than the national average (70%), according to the state’s Department of Health. This is their way of trying to get those rates higher.

In a press release, Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker described the many health benefits of breastfeeding, and listed the diseases nursing protects both babies and moms from. “The amended regulations help ensure that we provide the support and encouragement new mothers need to breastfeed their babies and continue to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months,” he said.

I’ll hand it to them: the government seems to have good intentions (and is following in the lead of other states, such as Maryland and Massachusetts). Moms DO need support and encouragement to begin (and continue) breastfeeding. But this? It’s a dumb way to do it. For so many reasons it’s dumb.

First and foremost, the new rule doesn’t ban formula in hospitals outright, so if you’re having a hard time breastfeeding and want to supplement, or switch outright, you can still do this. But if your child doesn’t take to the brand the hospital offers, then it’s on you, the exhausted new parent, to find a brand that agrees with your baby and wallet. That’s an onus that shouldn’t be put on the parent. Some parents don’t have the endless Facebook groups through which they can find out the “best” brands or experienced friends a text away. Don’t put us out more than we have to be during this frazzled time.

Secondly, moms know that breastfeeding is highly recommended by the AAP and doctors pretty much everywhere. Breast milk has been proven to supply a specific set of antibodies and nutrients you just can’t find in formula. We get it. It’s better. But the guidelines (and expectation to breastfeed exclusively for six months) is highly unrealistic for many mothers, and leads to guilt we just don’t need.

We send women back to work after (at best) 12 weeks. And there are many legitimate reasons that breastfeeding rates go down as the months wear on (one 2011 study found that women who delayed going back to work were twice as likely to continue breastfeeding predominantly beyond three months).

I tried breastfeeding with both my children, the second time more successfully than the first. With my first, I was at home recovering from a C-section, trying desperately to breastfeed and it just wasn’t working. I was only producing a mediocre amount in one breast, and I was panicked. I wasn’t willing to forgo my sanity with my second child, so I wasn’t precious about supplementing with formula until I switched whole hog to Similac. And both times I was racked with guilt. The serious mom-guilt kind. Was I doing all that I could, all that I could on a particular little amount of sleep? Will my children develop constant ear infections when they’re older and I’ll be to blame? Was I responsible for their future health failures because of this one decision? Like so many moms, I was incredibly vulnerable and susceptible.

Now I’m not saying anyone is taking away formula; I very much get the distinction between marketing materials and taking formula out of the drawer in the portable changing table at the hospital. But it does lead me to think, why this? It’s as though our government ― not just some random Facebook friend ― is preying on our mom guilt. And, of all things, do we really need that?

Smiling Babies